Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Touch of Brazilian Magic

The magic of Brazilian futebol was always calling me to play

Since returning to Canada and its arctic winters I've had plenty of time to read in the long dark nights, and I've found a wonderful book to provide solace to my saudades

The book explains to me in a palpable way what makes futebol so special, or more to the point, what makes Brazilian futebol players so good. The answer goes beyond the sport and soccer can't be divided from Brazil anymore than Brazil cannot be separated from the beautiful game it nurtured from birth. 

Alex Bellos, the author of Futebol,The Brazilian Way of Life, has produced a masterly work of literary journalism in telling that story in a succinct and moving way. It is a story that is bigger than the country where the sport is played in with the passion of a new religion.

I originally wrote this piece below as part of Temporary Carioca a travelogue I kept during my visit to Rio de Janeiro a few years ago. I can no longer play soccer as I did once, and during my stay it was difficult to keep any pace in 35 + Celcius temperatures with even the most minor effort. Yet, the soccer gods played with me, taunting me to forget the heat and play a free-spirited game on the beach, in the alley or at the schoolyard. 
Throughout my stay in Rio I found that there was rarely a day I did not see or hear a futbol being kicked somewhere across my path. All too often at night I could hear players yelling from a nearby indoor club where balls bounced heavily on a concrete wall next to our bedroom.

Occasionally on the street I would run across a ball that had been kicked over a fence from a nearby sandlot. Wearing sandals I took my time kicking it back. At 40 Celsius I was content to retrieve balls only. Sometimes a ball found its way through a crowd at Ipanema beach, arriving at my feet, enticing the soccer player within to show off his stuff. “Come on, man.” Instead I put a foot to the ball and made a simple pass direct to a dozen or more young people who had a lifetime of show-stopping heroics ahead of them.

Wayward soccer balls have always had a way of finding me, then urging me to come back to the sport if only for a moment of reflected glory. I had kicked makeshift balls made of rubber and clothing strung together while playing on a makeshift field near a village on the way to Mt. Everest in Nepal. Once I found a game in Guatemala City when a team needed a player to even a side. In Mexico at high elevation I played a portion of a game before the altitude and heat got to me so they made me a referee for the rest of the game. In England I played games on a village road well into the night with two brothers keen to have someone to play against. As a youth in Colorado, decades before soccer became popular in North America, I kicked a ball against walls and fences at university as a way of seeking equanimity in a turbulent world of my own making.

One night while walking along a beach in Cabraglia in the state of Bahai, I came across a game being played on a worn tennis court. The players wore old tennis shoes and some played barefoot, yet their skills were well advanced at a tender age. Then extraordinarily an errant ball flew into the air and bounced well out of bounds and came to a stop on the sand, confronting me. Giant waves from the Atlantic crashed not a few meters away in the last light of day. This particular ball dared me to take it ---skillfully. The young men were watching. I knew that local custom demands that when a ball arrives it is imperative to control it with style. Wearing sandals I flipped the ball on my right foot. Then I put the ball to my left foot and guided the ball back along the pavement, bringing it back to the eager players anxious to get on with their game.
What is a carioca? 

I coveted the moments. This was no ordinary ball and I was no ordinary gringo. I was respectful with the ball, it was the sum of all those feet that had touched it over its time. I passed on my inside left foot to their coach standing on the sideline 20 meters away. He nodded as he guided the ball effortlessly from his foot, up his leg as if it were on a string, bounced it on his knee and in mid-air, shot it flying back to the young men. The show was as much for me as for the players. With a respectful glint in our eyes, we two old warriors shared a touch of Brazilian magic between us, and with the future, the present and the past.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Something Rare About Manchester United

Robin van Persie brings new life to MUFC

Last August, I wrote a post about Manchester United's IPO.  I found it odd at the time that a club that had some 660 million fans worldwide could not bump up the stock price from its initial $14 US per share on the NYSE. Today, the stock is 15.50, a jump of $1.50, which won't even buy you a cup of coffee on Wall Street. 

I thought that a team with a lead of seven points over its closest rival, Manchester City, last year's English Premier League's champion, would stir the market. Or the fact, that its best player was secured in a trade that has paid huge dividends and made Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, look like a genius. 

Arguably the biggest brand in the English Premier League, Manchester United has also become something of a show stopper. Its defense has allowed teams even from bottom of the table to score with impunity, then with time running out the team charges back and has won a number of astonishing come-from-behind wins or ties.

And then with Wayne Rooney, the team's mainstay at striker, out with an injury for much of the season, Robin van Persie (RPV), shows up without missing a beat and gives the team a new face at striker. It must have been sugar on the pudding for United to watch RVP score against Liverpool last weekend.

For the most part, Manchester United has made everything look easy in spite competing in a highly inflated transfer market, which will probably reach more than $400 million leaving a lot of teams bleeding red ink.

With the kind of season MUFC is having, the club may even raise its stock price.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Is Canada Losing Its Democracy?

Idle No More defies Stephen Harper

Nearly two years have elapsed since the last Canadian federal election. I wrote about that election in a post about how Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper  could have a free rein since he'd won a convincing majority. What I could not have foreseen was how firmly in the grip he was of the oil and gas industry. Or to what lengths he would go to bypass governance in order to swindle the public.

I really didn't expect much from the man, given that he is a toady of the Christian right-wing evangelicals. He makes no excuses for being an acolyte for the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who have been frequent visitors to Alberta during Harper's reign.  

But in my wildest imagination I could not have foreseen how Canada could have fallen into the vile swamp that Harper envisions for this country. 

I mistakenly thought there would be some checks and balances to keep watch on Harper's doings. He had shown such disregard for Parliamentary procedures with a minority, what could he do with a majority? I wrote my concerns in a post two years ago in Conservatives Win A Majority: American Style.

Today, I see some Canadians realize they are awakening from their slumber and finding Stephen Harper is planning to sell Canada to the highest bidder. He and his party are so arrogant that they no longer disguise their plans, which include building a massive network of pipelines to service exports to China and the U.S.

Did I miss something?

Where were the public inquiries, the public input, the debates in the House of Commons? 

Where was the public outcry? After all, these pipelines will be built across pristine arctic wildlife refuges. Was the public involved or even informed?

For example, Harper has already initiated secretive legislation under the guise of a trade agreement with the innocuous sounding title of FIPA. But this treaty now gives Chinese energy conglomerates sovereign rights within Canada's borders. The Chinese can operate with impunity without environmental scrutiny. The Chinese companies can even sue Canadians for non-compliance measures under terms of the treaty, which will run for the next 31 years. 

Only the Green Party had read the fine print and objected to the measure. They had less than thirty days to comment and bring it before Parliament. Albeit many of the finer details remain obscured. The FIPA treaty with China was ratified on Halloween of this year with virtually no media involvement.

But this week, Harper is being called out by the First Natons leaders who are taking direct action under the banner of "Idle No More"

Bands across Canada are coming together, because oil platforms, oil and gas pipelines are being planned without public participation. Moreover, new federal and provincial Conservative legislation is being targeted to subvert traditional First Nation land claim treaties, making it easier for oil and gas to exploit previously protected land from development.

This begs the question and no one in Parliament to my knowledge has asked it: 

Who does Harper truly represent? China? The oil and gas pipeline lobby?

Why are the citizens in Canada being left out of the equation?